Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Goal sharing and goal pursuit

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Goal sharing and goal pursuit:
How does sharing one's goals with others affect goal pursuit?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Picture this It's January 1st. You have just woken up with a massive hangover from the night before. You are celebrating the new year. Everything will be different this year; new year, new me and everything. You sit down for a bit and think of some goals you want to achieve this year, this is your year after all. You make a list of five goals, you are catching up with some friends to relive what the hell happened last night and everyone helping each other fill in the blanks of their memory from the night before. You say "hey guys! I have some goals for this year", obviously everyone wants to know what they are so you tell them. After all conventional wisdom tells us that telling someone our goals means that they will hold us to it. Recent research has looked at exactly that, the impact of telling someone your goals and the likelihood of achieving them. This book chapter will look at the topic of goal sharing and goal pursuit.

Goal sharing and goal pursuit[edit | edit source]

File:Goal blue.jpg
Figure 1. Goal - the object of a person's desire or an aim/desired result

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What is a goal?[edit | edit source]

The Oxford dictionary defines a goal as "the object of a person's desire or an aim/desired result", Goals are set for a number of different facets of life but can be narrowed down to either professional or personal. There are several ways to set goals and the likely success of it depending on the different techniques used (Macleod, 2012). Locke(1968) goal setting theory of motivation has been a groundbreaking piece of work in the topic of goal setting and he suggested that people are motivated by clear, well defined goals and appropriate feedback. For more information on goal setting theories and the best way to set goals have a look at the[goal setting techniques] chapter. This chapter will solely look at the impact of goal sharing and goal pursuit.

Why do people set goals?[edit | edit source]

So why even do people even set goals? Reeves[spelling?] (2015) say that this is due to the discrepancy people have between their present state and their ideal state. Put basically they look to bridge the difference between how life is going right now as opposed to how they wish life to be going. This becomes peoples motivation for goal setting and the changes that they wish to achieve with it. Now obviously the exact particulars as to why each individual sets goals varies depending on a number of different things but as a whole it is bridging the here and now to the ideal state.

What is the problem?[edit | edit source]

The problem in this topic is to share or not to share. Are you more likely to try and achieve your goal if you tell someone as opposed to if you keep it by yourself? Common wisdom suggest that you should make your goal public so that their is social expectation on you and that you have someone to hold you to account. However a growing body of recent research suggests otherwise. The more we share our goals with people, the more they acknowledge how amazing our life changing goals are going to be, the more our body releases dopamine and the less likely we are to take the necessary steps to achieve our goals (Azab, 2018). Up until less than 10 years ago there was no research looking at what psychological process may intervene between goal formation and goal attainment (Gollwitzer, 2010). So Peter Gollwitzer has spend a number of years on a number of studies to help us understand the impacts of this subject more. Other studies had looked at other aspects related to success of a goal, like the strength of a behavioral intention (e.g. weight loss, savings goal etc)(Ajzen, 1991).

How can specific motivation and/or emotion theories and research help?[edit | edit source]

The theory of Maslow's hierachy[spelling?] of needs (Maslow, 1943), discussed later in this chapter can help us identify what is important to human beings and why they may want to share their goals with other people. This then leads to better understanding ourselves and how we should go about achieving our goals and if we do have to share it with other people how to go about to so that we don't get that instant gratification and actually have to have a plan of how to get to the desired outcome. Other feedback on how different research and theories can help with the dilemma of goal sharing or not is shared below.

The low down - How does sharing one's goals with others affect goal pursuit?[edit | edit source]

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Fishbach, Eyal & Finkelstein Study - 2010[edit | edit source]

Everyone has goals at most stages of their lives. Whether they write it down on paper or not, they are there. If someone is struggling financially they wish that they didn't have to live paycheck to paycheck. Someone who is self-conscious about their body weight wishes that they could wear the best looking swimsuit when they go to the beach without worrying about what people are thinking. However according to this 2010 study if you are a beginner at goal setting and you receive negative feedback then it can stop you from doing anything about achieving your goal (Fishbach, Eyal & Finkelstein, 2010). Imagine that you are a 18 year old new real estate agent and you tell one of the more experienced sales members that you wish to write $500,000 in commission in the next 2 years. Now this older sales member is okay and has almost 20 years of experience but not someone who has climbed the social ladder and never really achieved what he is capable of. Understandably then he doubts your goal and how a 18 year old can do what he never did. This then leads to you doubting your ambitions and how you can achieve something that someone working for years and years couldn't. It sure does make sense to reveal your goal so you can get some feedback and adjust and realign your plan to your desired outcome (Festinger, 1954).

Goal feedback

This dilemma is opposite for experts in goal setting according to this study. If you have been making goals for a long time and are reasonably good at achieving them. If you receive negative feedback then you are more likely to come up with strategies to help you overcome the challenges and the feedback that you receive. This could be due to the experts in goal setting already more committed to their goals and therefore are more so looking for feedback on improvements rather than the goal itself (Fishbach et al, 2010). As an example if you are facing a deadline for a task. The novices would seek positive feedback that they will be able to get the task done on time whereas the experts will seek negative feedback so it helps them stay on task and overcome distractions. Having this knowledge would be very beneficial in real life scenarios, say as a boss you are looking to motivate your staff on completing their goals, knowing how to deal with novice and expert goal setters would help you help them achieve their goals and in turn help with your balance sheet at the end of the financial year.

Gollwitzer, Sheeran, Michalski, & Seifert Study - 2009[edit | edit source]

This is one of the landmark studies when looking at goal sharing and one that has been referenced in many other studies. The title of the study is "When intentions go public". In this study Gollwitzer and team did 4 experiments to test what the implications of other people taking notice of one's identity related behavioral intentions are. Some of the key findings of the study were;

  1. Intentions that were noticed by other people were less likely to be translated into an action than intentions that are ignored.
  2. This effect was tested,and found in a laboratory and in the field
  3. The last of the four studies also found that getting notice for the intentions also gave the subject a pre-mature sense of accomplishment.

The study speaks a lot about the self-completion theory (SCT). Humans love it when people notice our success or when people are there to cheer us on, That's why a sport team with a home ground and home crowd has such an advantage because they want to work for and show off to their people. SCT theory has also shown this, that individuals reach a higher level of completeness when the activities are noticed by a social audience (Gollwitzer, 1986). This probably explains a bit as to why we even have the urge to broadcast our goals to people, because we love an audience. We love the satisfaction of telling people our grand plans so we can get the validation for it.

Haimovitz & Corpus Study - 2011[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Example of person praise

This study went about looking at the difference in motivation depending on if the praise received after revealing goal is person focused or process focused. For this study they tracked 111 undergraduate students in the Pacific Northwest of America, splitting them into three groups; person praise, process praise and no praise control group. they were told the study was tracking how music affects task performance. For this they were given three hidden figure puzzles and 90 seconds each to complete these, after each of the first two trials they were given written feedback. Either praising the process; ‘Great! It seems like you put a lot of effort into these!; ‘Excellent! You must be using some really effective strategies!", praising the people "Great! You’re really good at these!’,‘Excellent! You must have a natural talent!" and no feedback for the control group. The participants were told their real score after each trial but the comparison against the average was made up. After the third trial in which they were told that they got less than the average, only descriptive feedback was provided "You didn’t do as well on this last one". The participants were then asked to rate on a 7 point likert-type scale from not at all true to very true "I enjoyed working on this puzzle" to test intrinsic motivation derived from the intrinsic motivation inventory (Ryan, 1982). One of the biggest takeaways from this 2011 study was that if you get praise for yourself as a person rather than the process of attaining the goal then it can decrease your intrinsic motivation. So for example if you tell a friend that you want to write a book this year and they are someone who thinks you are a good writer, if they praise you and say that they are very impressed by your goal and really think that you can do it rather than asking you how you will go about doing that then you will have less intrinsic motivation to actually achieving your goal. Future research is recommend to look this effects extrinsic motivation, for this example the fame or the monetary gain from writing a book would be some suggestions of what to look at.

Derek Sivers TED Talk - 2010[edit | edit source]

In three minutes and fifteen seconds Derek Sivers tells us why we should not be sharing goals with other people. The following is an example scenario based on the talk by Derek.

EXAMPLE: Imagine your biggest goal right now, say you want to lose 10kg before your wedding so you can fit into that suit you have your eyes on. Now tell someone close to you, your best man for example. Doesn't it feel good to let someone know that you are going to fit into that suit by your wedding? Well just the act of telling someone and getting the positive reaction means you are less likely to take the necessary steps to complete this goal. This is because your mind is tricked into thinking that the goal is already achieved when you get the positive reaction, therefore once you have told your plans to people it gives your brain the premature sense of completeness (Sivers. 2009; Gollwitzer et al, 2009).

In four separate tests, 163 people wrote down their personal goal and then half were told to announce their goals to people and then other half told to keep it to themselves. They were then given 45 minutes to write down the things that would lead them to achieving their goals. The people that had announced their goals on average stopped at 33 minutes compares to the other group taking up the whole 45 minutes. Also the group that had announced their goals felt that they were much closer to achieving their goals. It would be advisable to track these people to see if they actually achieve their goals, perhaps the act of telling people gave them the initial boost and put them in a more positive mind frame to carry on with their goals.

Theories[edit | edit source]

This section covers the motivation theories relevant to goal sharing and also goal pursuit. An overview of the theories along with why it is relevant to this topic is discussed. A link for further information on the theory is provided where appropriate. Motivation theories

Maslow's hierarchy of needs[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is probably one of the earliest and most known theories of motivation, generally in the shape of a pyramid (See Figure 3). He suggests that for someone to climb up the pyramid they must first satisfy the level prior (Maslow, 1943). The earliest level on this pyramid is physiological needs, things such as the need for food, shelter, water and clothes. The other levels in Maslow's hierarchy of needs include; safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization. The part of the pyramid most relevant to goal sharing and goal pursuit is the esteem level. This covers your self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect for others and the respect by others (Maslow, 1943). The need for respect by others could be the reason we feel that we should tell other people our grand goals so that they get impressed by us and our goals. Also relevant is the part about confidence, most of the times people are positive about the goals when you reveal it to them so getting that positive feedback can fuel the reason why we feel the need to tell people our goals.

Locke's Goal setting theory[edit | edit source]

Locke conducted a lot of research into the goal setting field, as such arriving at the goal setting theory which is widely used today. Go into any goal setting or corporate workshop and you will hear SMART goals which is derived from this theory. SMART meaning; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound (Locke & Latham, 1991). According to the theory there are five principle of goal-setting.

  1. Clarity - How clear and precise the goals are. Example: Increase number of calls made in a sales job from 30 to 50/day by the end of the year.
  2. Challenge - Setting challenging goals. Example: Increase call/sale ratio by 50% from financial year (FY) 2016/2017 to FY 2017/2018
  3. Commitment - Different ways to stay committed to a goal depending on if it is a personal or a team setting. Example of personal: Stay committed by creating and looking at a vision board of how life could be
  4. Gaining Feedback - A couple of ways of doing this is by scheduling a time once a day/week/month depending on goal to have a look at how you are going or learn ways of how to ask for feedback
  5. Task complexity - Yes it is important to set a challenging goal to spark something in you to want to achieve it but if the goal is too hard then you may not even have the motivation to start. This can be countered to some extent by setting slower goals within a goal so it seems more attainable rather than looking at the mammoth difference you are trying to achieve from your present state to ideal state.

The part most relevant to goal sharing in this theory is the gaining feedback aspect of it. In this theory the feedback is sought much after the goal has been set preciously and with clarity. The person is also trained in getting the feedback to help them overcome the challenges. This works more as a partnership and someone trying to help you get to your goal (Works really good in employer/Employee scenario) as opposed to you telling the goals to your friends or family.

Alternatives to goal sharing[edit | edit source]

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Implementation intentions[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. Confucius quote about goals.

Focus on the when, where and how you will achieve a goal rather than focusing on the goal itself (Gollwitzer, 1998). For example if I don't make my savings goal this month then I will need to deduct that from the entertainment budget next month. So focusing on the if, then scenario. In this study by Gollwitzer participants were seated in front of a computer screen and told to solve a series of complex math problems. While doing this the groups were displayed distracting video clips and loud music. One group was told to do a implementation intention (when I encounter problem x, I will perform y) and one to do a goal intention (I want to achieve z). As predicted in this study those who came up with the implementation intention completed more math problems and those that came up with the goal intention got distracted more.

Share the goal without sharing the goal[edit | edit source]

According to the Ted Talk by Sivers there are a number of things you can do to help achieve your goal. First of all try to resist the urge to reveal your goal to people by doing this you can delay the gratification that this this social acknowledgement brings and by revealing your goal, the mind mistakes the talking for the doing. If you must reveal your goal to people he recommends doing it in a way that brings you no joy or instant dopamine boost. Rather than focus on the positive of revealing your goal, focus on the negative so for example, "I really want to lose 10kgs by Christmas, so I really need to exercise 5 days a week and kick my ass if I don't, okay?" This then leads the person you are broadcasting your goal to to think about the negative aspect of the goal, of the consequences of not achieving it rather than focusing on the goal itself and how amazing the person is for making such a grand goal.

Quiz questions[edit | edit source]

Okay let's see how much you have been paying attention.

Here are some questions related to the aspect of goal sharing and goal pursuit - choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 What is a goal?

A desired outcome
The object of one's ambition or effort
An observable and measurable end result
All of the above

2 According to Gollwitzer and colleagues 2009 study, are you more or less likely to achieve your goal if you broadcast it to people and get acknowledged for it?


3 Which type of praise is better for motivation to achieve the goal?

Person praise
Goal praise
Process praise
Sharing goal with multiple people

4 Which of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs levels is more relevant to this chapter?


5 According to more recent body of research, Should you or should you not reveal your goals to other people?

Should reveal goals
Should not reveal goals
It doesn't make a difference on the end result
Depends on the goal

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Goals are set for several different reasons and by everyone. Being able to achieve goals and what the impact of sharing ones goals with other people would have on the end result had not been researched until recently. Now extensive research suggests that despite what historic wisdom suggests it is best to keep your goals to yourself rather than broadcasting it to others. You are more likely to achieve the goal if you keep it to yourself. Letting other people in on your goal allows them to praise you as a person for being so ambitious, this however leads to a dopamine boost by getting the acknowledgement for your goals before you have even started. You are then less likely to make a plan and act on the goal as your brain mistakes the dopamine boost when revealing the goal for actually getting to the goal. This feels like you have already accomplished your goal somewhat or have got the pleasurable outcome for it anyway.

There has been ways suggested above for ways to reveal your goal in a way so that you don't get the initial positive boost. Also, for employers or people listening to other peoples goals it would be beneficial to have the knowledge of how people react to feedback so you can help them get to their goals if that is what you wish to do. It can definitely be extremely hard to resist the urge to reveal to your friends that you are planning on learning another language in the next 6 months, yes that is very impressive but doesn't mean anything if you don't actually do anything about it. Setting a plan of how this can be achievable and what steps you will take to learn the new language and getting praise on the plan will mean you are more likely to succeed with the goal. This way the praise on the process and not you as a person therefore for this goal to actually become a reality you have to follow the process.

Further research would be recommended to look at goal setting, goal sharing and tracking the goal achievement over a long period of time rather than just over a test period in a laboratory.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211. doi: 10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-t

Azab, M. (2018). Why Sharing Your Goals Makes Them Less Achievable?. Retrieved from

Festinger, L. (1954). A Theory of Social Comparison Processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.

Fishbach, A., Eyal, T., & Finkelstein, S. (2010). How Positive and Negative Feedback Motivate Goal Pursuit. Social And Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 517-530.

Gollwitzer, P. (1986). Striving for Specific Identities: The Social Reality of Self-Symbolizing. Public Self And Private Self, 143-159.

Gollwitzer, P., & Schaal, B. (1998). Metacognition in Action: The Importance of Implementation Intentions. Personality And Social Psychology Review, 2, 124-136.

Gollwitzer, P., Sheeran, P., Michalski, V., & Seifert, A. (2009). When Intentions Go Public. Psychological Science, 20, 612-618.

Haimovitz, K., & Henderlong Corpus, J. (2011). Effects of person versus process praise on student motivation: stability and change in emerging adulthood. Educational Psychology, 31, 595-609.

Locke, E. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational Behavior And Human Performance, 3, 157-189.

Locke, E., & Latham, G. (1991). A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance. The Academy Of Management Review, 16, 480.

Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding Motivation and Emotion, 7th Edition. [VitalSource]. Retrieved from

Ryan, R. M. (1982). Control and information in the intrapersonal sphere: An extension of cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 450-461.

Sivers, D. (2009). Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them - Derek Sivers. Retrieved from

Youngson, N. (2018). Goal description [Image]. Retrieved from

External links[edit | edit source]